I caught a military charter, first to Kuwait, then to the States. I was in civilian clothes, and with my longer hair and beard, I got hassled a bit, since no one could figure out why someone on active duty was authorized to travel in civilian clothes.
Which, looking back, is kind of amusing.
I got off the plane in Atlanta, then had to go back through security to continue on. It had taken me a few days to make it this far, and when I took my boots off, I swear half a dozen people in line nearby keeled over. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten through security quite as fast.
He would never tell me how dangerous things were, but I got to the point where I felt like I could read him. And when he told me that his guys were taking him out in a convoy, just the way he told me about it made me fear not only for them but for him. I asked a couple questions and the careful responses told me how dangerous his extract was going to be.
I felt very strongly that the more people I had praying for him, the better his chances. So I asked if I could tell his parents to pray for him.
He said yes.
Then I asked if I could tell them why, about the fact that he was coming home and the danger in the city, and he said no.
So, I didn’t.
I asked people for prayer, alluded to danger, and gave no further details other than to ask them to trust me. I knew it would be a tough pill to swallow for those few I was asking. But I felt strongly that people needed to pray—and at the same time that I had to adhere to my husband’s desires about what was to be shared. I know it wasn’t popular, but I felt the need for prayer overrode my need for popularity.
When he got home, it seemed to me Chris was so stressed he was numb to everything.
It was hard for him to pinpoint how he felt about anything. He was just wiped out and overwhelmed.
I felt sad for everything he’d been through. And I felt terribly torn about needing him. I did need him, tremendously. But at the same time, I had to get along without him so much that I developed an attitude that I didn’t need him, or at least that I shouldn’t need him.
I guess it may not make any sense to anyone else, but I felt this strange mixture of feelings, all across the spectrum. I was so mad at him for leaving the kids and me on our own. I wanted him home but I was mad, too.
I was coming off months of anxiety for his safety and frustration that he chose to keep going back. I wanted to count on him, but I couldn’t. His Team could, and total strangers who happened to be in the military could, but the kids and I certainly could not.
It wasn’t his fault. He would have been in two places at once if he could have been, but he couldn’t. But when he had to choose, he didn’t choose us.
All the while, I loved him and I tried to support him and show him love in every way possible. I felt five hundred emotions, all at the same time.
I guess I had had an undercurrent of anger that whole deployment. We’d have conversations where we talked and he realized something was wrong. He’d ask what was bothering me and I’d deny it. And then finally he’d press and I would say, “I’m mad at you for going back. But I don’t want to hate you, and I don’t want to be mad. I know you could be killed tomorrow. I don’t want you to be distracted by this. I don’t want to have this conversation.”
Now finally he was back, and all of my emotions just exploded inside me, happiness and anger all mixed together.
The doctors performed all sorts of tests on my little girl. Some of them really pissed me off.
I remember especially when they took blood, which they had to do a lot. They’d hold her upside down and prick her foot; a lot of times it wouldn’t bleed and they’d have to do it again and again. She’d be crying the whole time.
These were long days, but eventually the docs figured out that my daughter didn’t have leukemia. While there was jaundice and some other complications, they were able to get control of the infections that had made her sick. She got better.
One of the things that was incredibly frustrating was her reaction to me. She seemed to cry every time I held her. She wanted Mommy. Taya said that she reacted that way to all men—whenever she heard a male voice, she would cry.
Whatever the reason, it hurt me badly. Here I had come all this way and truly loved her, and she rejected me.
Things were better with my son, who remembered me and now was older and more ready to play. But once again, the normal troubles that parents have with their kids and with each other were compounded by the separation and stress we’d all just gone through.
Little things could really be annoying. I expected my son to look me in the eye when I was scolding him. Taya was bothered by this, because she felt he wasn’t accustomed to me or my tone and it was too much to ask a two-year-old to look me in the eye in that situation. But my feeling was just the opposite. It was the right thing for him to do. He wasn’t being corrected by a stranger. He was being disciplined by someone who loved him. There’s a certain two-way road of respect there. You look me in the eye, I look you in the eye—we understand each other.
Taya would say, “Wait a minute. You’ve been gone for how long? And now you want to come home and be part of this family and make the rules? No sir, because you’re leaving again in another month to go back on training.”
We were both right, from our perspectives. The problem was trying to see the other’s, and then live with it.
I wasn’t perfect. I was wrong on a few things. I had to learn how to be a dad. I had my idea of how parenting should be, but it wasn’t based on any reality. Over time, my ideas changed.
Somewhat. I still expect my kids to look me in the eye when I’m talking to them. And vice versa. And Taya agrees.
I’d been home for roughly two weeks when a SEAL friend of mine called and asked what was up.
“Nothing much,” I told him.
“Well, who did y’all lose?” he asked.
“I don’t know who it was, but I heard you lost another.”
I got off the phone and started calling everyone I knew. I finally got a hold of someone who knew the details, though he couldn’t talk about them at the moment, because the family had not been informed yet. He said he’d call me back in a few hours.
They were long hours.
Finally I found out Mike Monsoor, a member of our sister platoon, had been killed saving the lives of some of his fellow platoon members in Ramadi. The group had set up an overwatch in a house there; an insurgent got close enough to toss a grenade.
Obviously, I wasn’t there, but this is the description of what happened from the official summary of action:
The grenade hit him in the chest and bounced onto the deck [here, the Navy term for floor]. He immediately leapt to his feet and yelled “grenade” to alert his teammates of impending danger, but they could not evacuate the sniper hide-sight in time to escape harm. Without hesitation and showing no regard for his own life, he threw himself onto the grenade, smothering it to protect his teammates who were lying in close proximity. The grenade detonated as he came down on top of it, mortally wounding him.
Petty Officer Monsoor’s actions could not have been more selfless or clearly intentional. Of the three SEALs on that rooftop corner, he had the only avenue of escape away from the blast, and if he had so chosen, he could have easily escaped. Instead, Monsoor chose to protect his comrades by the sacrifice of his own life. By his courageous and selfless actions, he saved the lives of his two fellow SEALs.
He was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
A lot of memories about Mikey came back as soon as I found out he’d died. I hadn’t known him all that well, because he was in the other platoon, but I was there for his hazing.
I remember us holding him down so his head could be shaved. He didn’t like that at all; I may still have some bruises.
I drove a van to pick up some of the guys from the airport and helped arrange Mikey’s wake.
SEAL funerals are kind of like Irish wakes, except there’s a lot more drinking. Which begs the question, how much beer do you need for a SEAL wake? That is classified information, but rest assured it is more than a metric ass-ton.
I stood on the tarmac in dress blues as the plane came in. My arm went up in a stiff salute as the coffin came down the ramp, then, with the other pallbearers, I carried it slowly to the waiting hearse.
We attracted a bit of a crowd at the airport. People nearby who realized what was going on stopped and stared silently, paying their respects. It was touching; they were honoring a fellow countryman even though they didn’t know him. I was moved at the sight, a last honor for our fallen comrade, a silent recognition of the importance of his sacrifice.
The only thing that says we’re SEALs are the SEAL tridents we wear, the metal insignia that show we’re members. If you don’t have that on your chest, you’re just another Navy puke.
It’s become a sign of respect to take it off and hammer it onto the coffin of your fallen brother at the funeral. You’re showing the guy that you’ll never forget, that he remains part of you for the rest of your life.
As the guys from Delta Platoon lined up to pound their tridents into Mikey’s coffin, I backed off, head bowed. It happened that Marc Lee’s tombstone was just a few yards from where Monsoor was going to be buried. I’d missed Marc’s funeral because I’d still been overseas, and still hadn’t had a chance to pay my respects. Now it suddenly seemed appropriate to put my trident on his tombstone.
I walked over silently and laid it down, wishing my friend one last good-bye.
One of the things that made that funeral bittersweet was the fact that Ryan was released from the hospital in time to attend it. It was great to see him, even though he was now permanently blind.
Before passing out from blood loss after he’d been shot, Ryan had been able to see. But as his brain swelled with internal bleeding, bone or bullet fragments that were in his eye severed his optic nerves. There was no hope for restoring sight.
When I saw him, I asked him why he’d insisted on walking out of the building under his own power. It struck me as a remarkably brave thing—characteristic of him. Ryan told me he knew that our procedures called for at least two guys to go down with him if he couldn’t move on his own. He didn’t want to take more guys out of the fight.
I think he thought he could have gotten back on his own. And probably he would have if we’d let him. He might even have picked up a gun and tried to continue the fight.
Ryan left the service because of his injury, but we remained close. They say friendships forged in war are strong ones. Ours would prove that truism.
PUNCHING OUT SCRUFF FACE
After the funeral we went to a local bar for the wake proper.
As always, there were a bunch of different things going on at our favorite nightspot, including a small party for some older SEALs and UDT members who were celebrating the anniversary of their graduation. Among them was a celebrity I’ll call Scruff Face.
Scruff served in the military; most people seem to believe he was a SEAL. As far as I know, he was in the service during the Vietnam conflict but not actually in the war.
I was sitting there with Ryan and told him that Scruff was holding court with some of his buddies.
“I’d really like to meet him,” Ryan said.
“Sure.” I got up and went over to Scruff and introduced myself. “Mr. Scruff Face, I have a young SEAL over here who’s just come back from Iraq. He’s been injured but he’d really like to meet you.”
Well, Scruff kind of blew us off. Still, Ryan really wanted to meet him, so I brought him over. Scruff acted like he couldn’t be bothered.
We went back over to our side of the bar and had a few more drinks. In the meantime, Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it. President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering.
And on and on. Scruff said he hates America and that’s why he moved to Baja California. 9/11 was a conspiracy.
And on and on some more.
The guys were getting upset. Finally, I went over and tried to get him to cool it.
“We’re all here in mourning,” I told him. “Can you just cool it? Keep it down.”
“You deserve to lose a few,” he told me.
Then he bowed up as if to belt me one.
I was uncharacteristically level-headed at that moment.
“Look,” I told him, “why don’t we just step away from each other and go on our way?”
Scruff bowed up again. This time he swung.
Being level-headed and calm can last only so long. I laid him out.
Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.
I have no way of knowing for sure, but rumor has it he showed up at the BUD/S graduation with a black eye.
Fighting is a fact of life when you’re a SEAL. I’ve been in a few good ones.
In April ’07, we were in Tennessee. We ended up across the state line in a city where there’d been a big UFC mixed-martial-arts fight earlier that evening. By coincidence, we happened into a bar where there were three fighters who were celebrating their first victories in the ring. We weren’t looking for trouble; in fact, I was in a quiet corner with a buddy where there was hardly anyone else around.
For some reason, three or four guys came over and bumped into my friend. Words were said. Whatever they were, the wannabe UFC fighters didn’t like them, so they went after him.
Naturally, I wasn’t going to let him fight alone. I jumped in. Together, we beat the shit out of them.
This time, I didn’t follow Chief Primo’s advice. In fact, I was still pounding one of the fighters when the bouncers came to break us up. The cops came in and arrested me. I was charged with assault. (My friend had slipped out the back. No bad wishes on him; he was only following Primo’s second rule of fighting.)
I got out on bail the next day. I had a lawyer come in and work out a plea bargain with the judge. The prosecutor agreed to drop the charges, but to make it all legal I had to get up there in front of the judge.
“Mr. Kyle,” she said, in the slow drawl of justice, “just because you’re trained to kill, doesn’t mean you have to prove it in my city. Get out and don’t come back.”
And so I did, and haven’t.
That little mishap got me in a bit of trouble at home. No matter where I was during training, I would always give Taya a call before I went to sleep. But having spent the night in the drunk tank, there was no call home.
I mean, I only had one call, and she couldn’t get me out, so I put it to good use.
There might not have been a real problem, except that I was supposed to go home for one of the kids’ birthday parties. Because of the court appearance, I had to extend my stay in town.
“Where are you?” asked Taya when I finally got a hold of her.
“I got arrested.”
“All right,” she snapped. “Whatever.”
I can’t say I blamed her for being mad. It wasn’t the most responsible thing I’d ever done. Coming when it did, it was just one more irritant in a time filled with them—our relationship was rapidly going downhill.
I didn’t fall in love with a frickin’ Navy SEAL, I fell in love with Chris.
Being a SEAL is cool and everything, but that’s not what I loved about him.
If I’d known what to expect, that would have been one thing. But you don’t know what to expect. No one does. Not really—not in real life. And not every SEAL does multiple back-to-back wartime deployments, either.
As time went on, his job became more and more important to him. He didn’t need me for family, in a way—he had the guys.
Little by little, I realized I wasn’t the most important thing in his life. The words were there, but he didn’t mean it.
FIGHTS AND MORE FIGHTS
I am by no means a bad-ass, or even an extremely skilled fighter, but several instances have presented themselves. I would rather get my ass beat than look like a pussy in front of my boys.
I have had other run-ins with fighters. I like to think I’ve held my own.
While I was serving with my very first platoon, the whole SEAL team went to Fort Irwin in San Bernardino out in the Mojave Desert. After our training sessions, we headed into town and found a bar there, called the Library.
Inside, a few off-duty police officers and firemen were having a party. A few of the women turned their attention to our guys. When that happened, the locals got all jealous and started a fight.
Which really showed some truly poor judgment, because there had to be close to a hundred of us in that little bar. A hundred SEALs is a force to be reckoned with, and we did the reckoning that day. Then we went outside and flipped over a couple of cars.
Somewhere around there, the cops came. They arrested twenty-five of us.
You’ve probably heard of captain’s mast—that’s where the commanding officer listens to what you’ve done and hands out what is called a nonjudicial punishment if he thinks it’s warranted. The punishments are prescribed by military law and can be anything from a stern “tsk, tsk, don’t do that again” to an actual reduction in grade and even “correctional custody,” which pretty much means what you think it means.
There are similar hearings with less critical consequences, heard by officers below the CO. In our case, we had to go before the XO (executive officer, the officer just below the commander) and listen while he told us in extremely eloquent language how truly fucked up we were. In the process, he read off all the legal charges, all the destruction—I forget how many people got hurt and how much money’s worth of damage we caused, but it took a while for him to catalog. He finished by telling us how ashamed he was.
“All right,” he said, lecture over. “Don’t let it happen again. Get the hell out of here.”
We all left, duly chastised, his words ringing in our ears for . . . a good five seconds or so.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Another unit heard of our little adventure, and they decided that they should visit the bar and see if history would repeat itself.
They won that fight, but from what I understand the conditions were a little more difficult. The outcome wasn’t quite so lopsided.
A little after that, yet another military group soon had to train in the same area. By now, there was a competition. The only problem was that the folks who lived there knew there would be a competition. And they prepared for it.
They got their collective asses kicked.
From then on, the entire town was placed off limits for SEALs.
You might think it’d be tough to get into a drunken brawl in Kuwait, since there really aren’t any bars where you can drink alcohol. But it just so happened that there was a restaurant where we liked to eat, and where, not so coincidentally, it was easy to sneak in alcohol.
We were there one night and started to get a little loud. Some of the locals objected; there was an argument, which led to a fight. Four of us, including myself, were detained.
The rest of my boys came over and asked the police to release us.
“No way,” said the police. “They’re going to jail and stand trial.”
They emphasized their position. My boys emphasized theirs.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve caught on that SEALs can be very persuasive. The Kuwaitis finally saw it their way and released us.
I was arrested in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, though I think in that case the circumstances may speak well of me. I was sitting in the bar when a waitress passed with a pitcher of beer. A guy at a table nearby pushed his chair back and bumped into her, not knowing she was there; a little bit of beer spilled on him.
He got up and slapped her.
I went over and defended her honor the only way I know how. That got me arrested. Those granolas are tough when it comes to fighting with women.
Those charges, like all the others, were dismissed.
THE SHERIFF OF RAMADI
The Ramadi offensive would eventually be considered an important milestone and turning point in the war, one of the key events that helped Iraq emerge from utter chaos. Because of that, there was a good deal of attention on the fighters who were there. And some of that attention eventually came to focus on our Team.
As I hope I’ve made clear, I don’t feel SEALs should be singled out publicly as a force. We don’t need the publicity. We are silent professionals, every one of us; the quieter we are, the better able we are to do our job.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. If it were, I wouldn’t have felt it necessary to write this book.
Let me say for the record that I believe the credit in Ramadi and in all of Iraq should go to the Army and Marine warriors who fought there as well as the SEALs. It should be fairly proportioned out. Yes, SEALs did a good job, and gave their blood. But as we told the Army and Marine officers and enlisted men we fought beside, we’re no better than those men when it comes to courage and worth.
But being in the modern world, people were interested in knowing about SEALs. After we got back, command called us together for a briefing so we could tell a famous author and former SEAL what had happened in battle. The author was Dick Couch.
The funny thing was, he started out not by listening but by talking.
Not even talking. Mr. Couch came and lectured us about how wrong-headed we were.
I have a lot of respect for Mr. Couch’s service during the Vietnam War, where he served with Navy Underwater Demolition and SEAL Teams. I honor and respect him greatly for that. But a few of the things he said that day didn’t sit all that well with me.
He got up in front of the room and started telling us that we were doing things all wrong. He told us we should be winning their hearts and minds instead of killing them.
“SEALs should be more SF-like,” he claimed, referring (I guess) to one of Special Forces’ traditional missions of training indigenous people.
Last time I checked, they think it’s okay to shoot people who shoot at you, but maybe that’s beside the point.
I was sitting there getting furious. So was the entire team, though they all kept their mouths shut. He finally asked for comments.
My hand shot up.
I made a few disparaging remarks about what I thought we might do to the country, then I got serious.
“They only started coming to the peace table after we killed enough of the savages out there,” I told him. “That was the key.”
I may have used some other colorful phrases as I discussed what was really going on out there. We had a bit of a back-and-forth before my head shed signaled that I ought to leave the room. I was glad to comply.
Afterward, my CO and command chief were furious with me. But they couldn’t do too much, because they knew I was right.
Mr. Couch wanted to interview me later on. I was reluctant. Command wanted me to answer his questions. Even my chief sat me down and talked to me.
So I did. Yup, nope. That was the interview.
In fairness, from what I’ve heard his book is not quite as negative as I understood his lecture to be. So maybe a few of my fellow SEALs did have some influence on him.
You know how Ramadi was won?
We went in and killed all the bad people we could find.
When we started, the decent (or potentially decent) Iraqis didn’t fear the United States; they did fear the terrorists. The U.S. told them, “We’ll make it better for you.”
The terrorists said, “We’ll cut your head off.”
Who would you fear? Who would you listen to?
When we went into Ramadi, we told the terrorists, “We’ll cut your head off. We will do whatever we have to and eliminate you.”
Not only did we get the terrorists’ attention—we got everyone’s attention. We showed we were the force to be reckoned with.
That’s where the so-called Great Awakening came. It wasn’t from kissing up to the Iraqis. It was from kicking butt.
The tribal leaders saw that we were bad-asses, and they’d better get their act together, work together, and stop accommodating the insurgents. Force moved that battle. We killed the bad guys and brought the leaders to the peace table.
That is how the world works.
I’d first hurt my knees in Fallujah when the wall fell on me. Cortisone shots helped for a while, but the pain kept coming back and getting worse. The docs told me I needed to have my legs operated on, but doing that would have meant I would have to take time off and miss the war.
So I kept putting it off. I settled into a routine where I’d go to the doc, get a shot, go back to work. The time between shots became shorter and shorter. It got down to every two months, then every month.
I made it through Ramadi, but just barely. My knees started locking and it was difficult to get down the stairs. I no longer had a choice, so, soon after I got home in 2007, I went under the knife.
The surgeons cut my tendons to relieve pressure so my kneecaps would slide back over. They had to shave down my kneecaps because I had worn grooves in them. They injected synthetic cartilage material and shaved the meniscus. Somewhere along the way they also repaired an ACL.
I was like a racing car, being repaired from the ground up.
When they were done, they sent me to see Jason, a physical therapist who specializes in working with SEALs. He’d been a trainer for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After 9/11, he decided to devote himself to helping the country. He chose to do that by working with the military. He took a massive pay cut to help put us back together.
I didn’t know all that the first day we met. All I wanted to hear was how long it was going to take to rehab.
He gave me a pensive look.
“This surgery—civilians need a year to get back,” he said finally. “Football players, they’re out eight months. SEALs—it’s hard to say. You hate being out of action and will punish yourselves to get back.”
He finally predicted six months. I think we did it in five. But I thought I would surely die along the way.
Jason put me into a machine that would stretch my knee. Every day I had to see how much further I could adjust it. I would sweat up a storm as it bent my knee. I finally got it to ninety degrees.
“That’s outstanding,” he told me. “Now get more.”
He also had a machine that sent a shock to my muscle through electrodes. Depending on the muscle, I would have to stretch and point my toes up and down. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is clearly a form of torture that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention, even for use on SEALs.
Naturally, Jason kept upping the voltage.
But the worst of all was the simplest: the exercise. I had to do more, more, more. I remember calling Taya many times and telling her I was sure I was going to puke if not die before the day was out. She seemed sympathetic but, come to think of it in retrospect, she and Jason may have been in on it together.
There was a stretch where Jason had me doing crazy amounts of ab exercises and other things to my core muscles.
“Do you understand it’s my knees that were operated on?” I asked him one day when I thought I’d reached my limit.
He just laughed. He had a scientific explanation about how everything in the body depends on strong core muscles, but I think he just liked kicking my ass around the gym. I swear I heard a bullwhip crack over my head any time I started to slack.
I always thought the best shape I was ever in was straight out of BUD/S. But I was in far better shape after spending five months with him. Not only were my knees okay, the rest of me was in top condition. When I came back to my platoon, they all asked if I had been taking steroids.
I’d pushed my body as far as I could before getting the operations. Now the thing that was deteriorating was even more important than my knees—my marriage.
This was the roughest of a bunch of rough spots. A lot of resentment had built up between us. Ironically, we didn’t actually fight all that much, but there was always a lot of tension. Each of us would put in just enough effort to be able to say we were trying—and imply that the other person was not.
After years of being in war zones and separated from my wife, I think in a way I’d just forgotten what it means to be in love—the responsibilities that come with it, like truly listening and sharing. That forgetting made it easier for me to push her away. At the same time, an old girlfriend happened to get in contact with me. She called the home phone first, and Taya passed the message along to me, assuming I wasn’t the type of guy she had to worry about straying.
I laughed off the message at first, but curiosity got the best of me. Soon my old girlfriend and I were talking and texting regularly.
Taya figured out that something was up. One night I came home and she sat me down and laid everything out, very calmly, very rationally—or at least as rational as you can be in that kind of situation.
“We have to be able to trust each other,” she said at one point. “And in the direction we’re going, that’s not going to work. It just won’t.”
We had a long, heartfelt talk about that. I think we both cried. I know I did. I loved my wife. I didn’t want to be separated from her. I wasn’t interested in getting divorced.
I know: it sounds corny as shit. A fucking SEAL talking about love?
I’d rather get choked out a hundred times than do that in public, let alone here for the whole world to see.
But it was real. If I’m going to be honest, I have to put it out there.
We set up a few rules that we would live by. And we both agreed to go to counseling.
Things just got to the point where I felt as if I was looking down into a deep pit. It wasn’t just arguments over the kids. We weren’t relating to each other. I could tell his mind had strayed from our marriage, from us.
I remember talking to a girlfriend who’d been through an awful lot. I just unloaded.
She said to me, “Well this is what you have to do. You have to lay it all on the line. You have to tell him that you love him, and you want him to stay, but if he wants to go, he is free to do so.”
I took her advice. It was a hard, hard conversation.
But I knew several things in my heart. First, I knew I loved Chris. And second, and this was very important to me, I knew that he was a good dad. I’d seen him with our son, and with our daughter. He had a strong sense of discipline and respect, and at the same time had so much fun with the kids that by the time they were done playing they all ached from laughing. Those two things really convinced me that I had to try to keep our marriage together.
From my side, I hadn’t been the perfect wife, either. Yes, I loved him, truly, but I’d been a real bitch at times. I had pushed him away.
So both of us had to want the marriage and we both had to come together to make it work.
I’d like to say that things instantly got better from that point on. But life really isn’t like that. We did talk a lot more. I started to become more focused on the marriage—more focused on my responsibilities to my family.
One issue that we didn’t completely resolve had to do with my enlistment, and how it would fit with our family’s long-term plans. My earlier reenlistment was going to be up in roughly two years; we had already begun discussing that.
Taya made it clear that our family needed a father. My son was growing in leaps and bounds. Boys do need a strong male figure in their lives; there was no way I could disagree.
But I also felt as if I had a duty to my country. I had been trained to kill; I was very good at it. I felt I had to protect my fellow SEALs, and my fellow Americans.
And I liked doing it. A lot.
But . . .
I went back and forth. It was a very difficult decision.
In the end, I decided she was right: others could do my job protecting the country, but no one could truly take my place with my family. And I had given my country a fair share.
I told her I would not reenlist when the time came.
I still wonder sometimes if I made the right decision. In my mind, as long as I am fit and there is a war, my country needs me. Why would I send someone in my place? A part of me felt I was acting like a coward.
Serving in the Teams is serving a greater good. As a civilian, I’d just be serving my own good. Being a SEAL wasn’t just what I did; it became who I was.
A FOURTH DEPLOYMENT
If things had worked according to “normal” procedures, I would have been given a long break and a long stretch of shore duty after my second deployment. But for various reasons, that didn’t happen.
The Team promised that I’d have a break after this deployment. But that didn’t work either. I wasn’t real happy about it. I lost my temper talking about it, as a matter of fact. I’d guess more than once.
Now, I like war, and I love doing my job, but it rankled me that the Navy wasn’t keeping its word. With all the stress at home, an assignment that would have kept me near my family at that point would have been welcome. But I was told that the needs of the Navy came first. And fair or not, that’s the way it was.
My blood pressure was still elevated.
The doctors blamed it on coffee and dip. According to them, my blood pressure was as high as if I were drinking ten cups of coffee right before the test. I was drinking coffee, but not nearly that much. They strongly urged me to cut back, and to stop using dip.
Of course I didn’t argue with them. I didn’t want to get kicked out of the SEALs, or go down a road that might lead to a medical discharge. I suppose, in retrospect, some might wonder why I didn’t do that, but it would have seemed like a cowardly thing to do. It would never have felt right.
In the end, I was all right with being scheduled for another deployment. I still loved war.
Usually, when you come home, a few guys will rotate out of the platoon. Officers will usually change out. A lot of times the chief leaves, the LPO—lead petty officer—becomes the chief, and then someone else becomes LPO. But other than that, you stay pretty tight-knit. In our case, most of the platoon had been together for many years.
Trying to spread out the experience in the Team, command decided to break up Charlie/Cadillac Platoon and spread us out. I was assigned to Delta, and put in as LPO of the platoon. I worked directly with the new chief, who happened to be one of my BUD/S instructors.
We worked out our personnel selections, making assignments and sending different people off to school. Now that I was LPO, I not only had more admin crap to deal with, but couldn’t be point man anymore.
I drew the line when they talked about taking my sniper rifle away. I was still a sniper, no matter what else I did in the platoon.
Besides finding good point men, one of the toughest personnel decisions I had to make involved choosing a breacher. The breacher is the person who, among other things, is in charge of the explosives, who sets them and blows them (if necessary) on the DA. Once the platoon is inside, the breacher is really running things. So the group is entirely in his hands.
There are a number of other important tasks and schools I haven’t mentioned along the way, but which do deserve attention. Among them is the JTAC—that’s the guy who gets to call in air support. It’s a popular position in the Teams. First of all, the job is kind of fun: you get to watch things blow up. And secondly, you’re often called away for special missions, so you get a lot of action.
Comms and navigation are a lot further down the list for most SEALs. But they’re necessary jobs. The worst school you can send someone to has to do with intel. People hate that. They joined the SEALs to kick down doors, not to gather intelligence. But everyone has a role.
Of course, some people like to fall out of planes, and swim with the sharks.
The dispersal of talent may have helped the Team in general, but as platoon LPO I was concerned about getting the best guys over to Delta with me.
The master chief in charge of the personnel arrangements was working everything out on an organizational chart that had been set up on a big magnetic board. One afternoon, while he was out, I snuck into his office and rearranged things. Suddenly, everyone who was anyone in Charlie was now assigned to Delta.
My changes had been a little too drastic, and as soon as the master chief got back, my ears started ringing even more than normal.
“Don’t ever go into my office when I am not here,” he told me as soon as I reported to him. “Don’t touch my board. Ever.”
Well, truth is, I did go back.
I knew he’d catch anything drastic, so I made one little switch and got Dauber into my platoon. I needed a good sniper and corpsman. The master chief apparently never noticed it, or at least didn’t change it.
I had my answer ready in case I was caught: “I did it for the good of the Navy.”
Or at least Delta Platoon.
Still recovering from knee surgery, I couldn’t actually take part in a lot of the training for the first few months the platoon was together. But I kept tabs on my guys, watching them when I could. I hobbled around the land warfare sessions, observing the new guys especially. I wanted to know who I was going to war with.
I was just about back into shape when I got into a pair of fights, first the one in Tennessee I mentioned earlier, where I was arrested, and then another near Fort Campbell where, as my son put it, “some guy decided to break his face on my daddy’s hand.”
“Some guy” also broke my hand in the process.
My platoon chief was livid.
“You’ve been out with knee surgery, we get you back, you get arrested, now you break your hand. What the fuck?”
There may have been a few other choice words thrown in there as well. They may also have continued for quite a while.
Thinking back, I did seem to get into a number of fights during this training period. In my mind, at least, they weren’t my fault—in that last case, I was on my way out when the idiot’s girlfriend tried picking a fight with my friend, a SEAL. Which was absolutely as ridiculous in real life as it must look on the printed page.
But taken together, it was a bad pattern. It might even have been a disturbing trend. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize it at the time.
There’s a postscript to the story about “some guy” and my broken hand.
The incident happened while we were training in an Army town. I knew pretty much when I punched him that I’d broken my hand, but there was no way in hell that I was going to the base hospital; if I did, they’d realize I was (a) drunk and (b) fighting, and the MPs would be on my ass. Nothing makes an MP’s day like busting a SEAL.
So I waited until the next day. Now sober, I reported to the hospital and claimed I had broken my fist by punching out my gun before I actually cleared the doorjamb. (Theoretically possible, if unlikely.)
While I was getting treated, I saw a kid in the hospital with his jaw wired shut.
Next thing I knew, some MPs came over and started questioning me.
“This kid is claiming you broke his jaw,” said one of them.
“What the hell is he talking about?” I said, rolling my eyes. “I just came in off a training exercise. I broke my damn hand. Ask the SF guys; we’re training with them.”
Not so coincidentally, all of the bouncers at the bar where we’d been were Army SF; they would surely back me up if it came to that.
“We thought so,” said the MPs, shaking their heads. They went back over to the idiot soldier and started bitching him out for lying and wasting their time.
Serves him right for getting into a fight started by his girlfriend.
I came back West with a shattered bone. The guys all made fun of me for my weak genes. But the injury wasn’t all that funny for me, because the doctors couldn’t figure out whether they should operate or not. My finger set a little deeper in my hand, not quite where it should be.
In San Diego, one of the doctors took a look and decided they might be able to fix it by pulling it and resetting it in the socket.
I told him to give it a go.
“You want some painkiller?” he asked.
“Nah,” I said. They’d done the same thing at the Army hospital back East, and it hadn’t really hurt.
Maybe Navy doctors pull harder. The next thing I knew I was lying flat back on a table in the cast room. I’d passed out and pissed myself from the pain.
But at least I got away without surgery.
And for the record, I’ve since changed my fighting style to accommodate my weaker hand.
READY TO GO
I had to wear a cast for a few weeks, but more and more I got into the swing of things. The pace built up as we got ready to ship out. There was only one down note: we had been assigned to a western province in Iraq. From what we had heard, nothing was going on there. We tried to get transferred to Afghanistan, but we couldn’t get released by the area commander.
That didn’t sit too well with us, certainly not with me. If I was going back to war, I wanted to be in the action, not twiddling my (broken) fingers in the desert. Being a SEAL, you don’t want to sit around with your thumb up your ass; you want to get in the action.
Still, it felt good to be getting back to war. I’d been burned out when I came home, completely overwhelmed and emotionally drained. But now I felt recharged and ready to go.
I was ready to kill some more bad guys.